Trigger warning: sexual harassment and assault
A wise therapist once asked, "Why are you giving your power away?"
That wise therapist sends me an invoice on the 1st of every month. He asked me this question about 5 hours ago.
Recently, I spoke about being labeled a radical feminist by a former lover who was undereducated on the topic of gender inequality.
He read it. He replied.
One dreams of a gracious retort such as:
"Yes, you’re right. I have acted appallingly out of unconscious male privilege, dishonoring your lack of consent.
Furthermore, since that incident, I have not become more aware of the micro and macro causes of gender inequality.
However, having read your article, I have been idiomatically slapped to my senses. I will educate myself hereafter in order to become a male ally to the feminist cause."
As much as I am indulging in this imaginary response (inspired by Matt McGorry's article “Good Men” and Harvey Weinstein), I have not received anything close to this epistle from him.
In reality, I was told I focus too much on insignificant details to be proficient in serving the women I want to serve. That I acted rashly, out of “rage”.
I could sense a tiny part of him was hurt by my story. I felt guilty for causing him pain.
I felt guilty for causing him pain, through standing up against harassment and ignorance.
And just to give this Gâteau au Guilt the icing it deserves, I felt ashamed of feeling ashamed.
But pity me not, for I have identified the question which will peel the sticky layers of shameful compote right off the tart.
"Why are you giving your power away?"
I was raised in an environment where men held the power.
Both my parents worked full-time, yet my father was the one that made the decisions. In his company, in our home, and in life. He was right even when he wasn’t. Because he said so. And we obliged.
When my parents would talk about their peers, there was an underlying current that gurgled, "The men in those families make the decisions, too."
Indirectly, I inferred from an early age that men are made to rule countries, businesses, and relationships, simply by watching the news, movies, and music videos where rappers leaned against their new Jaguars, beckoning women to dance for them.
At school, we had a teacher who made explicit sexual innuendos towards girls. We were 13. Although our headteacher was female, his behavior was part and parcel of his “scientific brilliance” and he stayed on until (way past) retirement.
Around the same time, a male classmate disrupted a literature class by waving a water-filled condom in front of our substitute teacher. She was visibly disturbed, yet stayed silent, and the boy was never held accountable.
The same boy sexually assaulted me multiple times when I was 14, grinding himself against me in front of the entire class during the breaks. The male classmates would laugh and cheer him on, whilst informing me that my "No" meant that I enjoyed it. No teacher was ever notified, and I told no one, save a few friends.
All this before I reached maturity.
Is there really any surprise that, in my 20s, I experience shame when using my voice against a man who wronged me?
Woe is not me.
For the wise therapist reminded me of a female figure that would be able to counteract the imbalanced power dynamic.
This is the woman who broke up with her first boyfriend, at a time when the only expectation of a female was to get married, because he had been racist towards a person of Romani ethnicity.
This was the woman who was renowned in her village for her unwavering rejection of men looking to “have some fun.”
This was also the woman who practically raised me for the first 7 years of my life.
I looked up to her, albeit with fear-tinted glasses.
And now that she’s passed away, I feel her presence around me more than ever.
She’s with me when I speak up against injustice.
She’s with me when I press Publish.
She’s with me when I get gaslit by men’s egos.
She whispers, ‘"That’s my girl."
"Why are you giving your power away?" asked my therapist.
Because I was taught to.
I was taught that men can get away with anything, and if I talk about it, I’ll only make it worse.
And yes, maybe I will make it worse. In the short term.
I will be accused of rage and biased viewpoints and emotional reasoning.
I’ll take it.
I’ll feel ashamed, I’ll go to therapy, I’ll write it out, I’ll play Beyonce till the neighbors start social distancing outside my door.
I’ll be the Nasty Woman.
If that’s what it takes for my unborn daughter to have the same level of safety, respect, and opportunity as the boy next to her, I’ll do it gladly.
The alternative is to live in fear.
If I'm lucky enough not to get assaulted or harassed, I could live in fear of it happening.
In England and Wales, 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16 (CSEW, 2017).
You don't have to like statistics to trust them (unless you are a conspiracy theorist, in which case, good luck to you, my friend.)
You don't have to be a feminist to accept that, as things stand, a significant proportion of females are at risk in every corner of their lives.
You do have to be a feminist, however, to see that this is no way to live. You either power up or give up. When you protect the oppressor, you silently agree that you are unworthy of respect.
In a post #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter society, we have more opportunities to be heard than ever before. And not just in the USA or the UK. The French shouted #BalanceTonPorc, Arab speakers started #AnaKaman (أنا_كمان#) and Indian citizens are slowly dismantling a culture of victimization.
Don't put on your rose-tinted glasses just yet. Speaking up is not fun, and it almost never works in favor of the victim. It is a choice and a cross to bear.
So why do it?
"It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see." (Hamilton, the Musical)